To Discredit a Movement: Alt-Right Operatives Behind Fake Antifa Accounts
Dozens of Twitter profiles supposedly belonging to Antifa or anti-fascists are being exposed as counterfeit, underscoring how deceptive social media strategies can be used to heavily impact public opinion about social movements.
A recent investigation by Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, a well-known British publication comprised of citizen journalists, recently uncovered a “far-right smear campaign” against Antifa on the infamous 4chan forum, according to BBC News.
A screenshot on the website’s “Politically Incorrect” image bulletin shows anonymous users collaborating to search, edit, and distribute images that mock the anti-fascist movement.
“Get pictures — search ‘domestic violence >campaign’ or ‘child abuse campaign,’” instructed a member on August 23, 2017.
Higgins, who took the screen grab, also tracked the same images to alleged Antifa accounts on Twitter.
“Many of the accounts tweeting the images were clearly made in the last ten hours and had very few followers,” the British investigator told BBC News.
Hashtag initiatives, like #PunchANazi and #BashTheFash, too, were planned out on the website.
The flurry of fake Antifa accounts are part of a “pretty clumsy” campaign, Higgins told the BBC, but he “wouldn’t be surprised if white nationalist groups try to mount more sophisticated attacks in the future.”
The results of the Bellingcat investigation are unsettling. Yes, Antifa accounts such as @VacavilleAntifa unapologetically and obviously make fun of anti-fascism with tweets that are riddled with sexism and racism. But they have also massively misled the public about Antifa. How do they do it?
These accounts directly mention and/or retweet local media outlets and personalities. On the first day of its existence (March 31), Vacaville Antifa, an account supposedly based out of Vacaville, California, directly tweeted towards local news channels and reporters nearly twenty times. In one tweet, Vacaville Antifa shared a tweet from ABC7 News that read, “Today is Cesar Chavez Day in California; events are being held around the Bay Area to honor the late labor leader.” But the counterfeit account also attached an insult towards Mexican-American agriculture workers: “The government should own all means of production. Slaves make great fruit pickers.”
Comments like these were made plenty of times in a desperate attempt to garner local media attention. We don’t know if Vacaville Antifa effectively deceived local journalists, but it is safe to assume that was their intention.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of how effective this strategy can influence the media was shown on August 22 when RT America published an article about a viral petition calling for the classification of Antifa as a terrorist network. In the report, the Russian news outlet inserted a tweet from Boston Antifa after writing that local Antifa activists “made it clear that they weren’t just objecting to the free speech rights of neo-Nazis, but a wide range of political opinions they disagreed with.”
Nevertheless, by scrolling through @AntifaBoston, we found heavy doses of sarcasm and mockery against the anti-fascist movement. This trend is summarized in an August 17 tweet:
We contacted RT America via email informing them of what we found and have not received a reply as of August 27. The Boston Antifa Twitter account also subsequently blocked me from viewing its content.
The #FakeAntifa accounts have also been retweeted by prominent conservative and alt-right figures. On August 20, Angelo Ray Gomez, a Latino politician from Nevada, tweeted a screenshot of a Facebook post from Boston Antifa. Please note that the alleged Antifa post is very similar to the one RT America included in their aforementioned article.
As of August 28, Ray Gomez’s tweet has been retweeted over 1,400 times. And on Facebook, the Boston Antifa post has been shared over 7,150 times.
In sum, these #FakeAntifa accounts have done considerable damage to the public image of the anti-fascism movement in the United States. Just by scrolling through the comments of the posts we mentioned above, we can see clear signs of anger towards the loose collective, which is most likely the original intention of the account holders.
In this day and age, entire movements can fall victim to malicious campaigns orchestrated by social media-savvy operatives, a tactic that is clearly being implemented by the people behind Antifa Boston, Vacaville, and many others.